Like Michael Corleone’s line in “The Godfather: Part III,” “Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in.”
I used to be — used to be — a big NBA fan, and there were few bigger Boston Celtics fans than myself. Only my old man could have rivaled my fervor for the Cs. But as the Detroit Pistons and then Michael Jordan ascended to dominion over the NBA landscape, my interest swooned.
And then the Celtics — the once always lucky franchise that was then befelled and tormented by tragedy, first by Len Bias and then by Reggie Lewis — committed the unpardonable sin.
They hired Rick Pitino.
Pitino is a very good college coach. But given his track record in his first NBA stint, I was none too pleased when he was hired to run the Celtics, and he proceeded to run them into the ground. My affection for professional basketball was already waning and on very shaky ground. I had grown weary of the me-first style of play and of the worship of all things Jordan. The game had deteriorated badly, even as its ratings soared.
I still haven’t watched a full NBA game since Larry Bird retired as coach, his last game a microcosm of all that was wrong with the NBA at the time — Jordan and the Bulls got every call and the Pacers were essentially robbed in what is the worst officiated sport.
I have been dragged to two NBA games in the last 15 years. Neither was my idea.
The first was a result of a phone call. “I have tickets to the Hawks game Friday night. Can you go?”
So I drove five hours to Roswell, braved rush hour traffic on I-285 and had to sit between her and her sister, who had just gotten dumped by a guy named Patrick.
“Great,” I said during a break. “Everytime you say my name, your sister is going to want to stab me. Thanks a lot.”
Didn’t go out with her again and haven’t talked to her much since then, either. Great gal, though. Low maintenance, but high stress.
The last time? Again, not my idea. And again, never went out with that girl again, either. We doubled that night, and I had to keep the other guy, a friend of mine, occupied while the two ladies, I guess, chatted among themselves. I tried to pay her some attention that night, but it was a little difficult. Also a very nice gal I haven’t seen or spoken to for about six and a half years. Oh, well.
But now, the Celtics are relevant again after several years of being abject failures. And they’re playing the Lakers in the Finals, just what the NBA needed after years of declining ratings and interest. You’ve got the best player in the league, right now, against the team with the best record. It’s great theater, and two cities that embrace their franchises are the stages.
I still haven’t watched a game from start to finish. I probably haven’t watched a total of more than a quarter of action of any game.
But from what I’ve seen, it has been more like what I remember professional basketball being 20 years ago — ball movement on offense, defense and rebounding, finding the open man, the right guy taking the right shot at the right time, not some guy heaving it up simply because he’s wide open and the nearest defender happens to be the popcorn vendor.
It’s fun to watch someone like Kevin Garnett, who actually cares about playing hard every minute and winning, who wants his teammates to play at their best level. It’s fun to watch Paul Pierce, who finally has a chance to be a winner. It’s fun to watch Rajon Rondo, who is lightning quick and knows it and is a heart attack waiting to happen.
It’s even fun watch to Kobe Bryant get that look in his eye that no one short of shooting him is going to stop him.
Maybe I’ll even watch a whole game and not to have worry about whom I’m watching it with for a change.